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How to Make a Hemingway Daiquiri, a Classic Rum Cocktail the Author—and World-Renowned Drinker—Loved

It's okay to deviate from Ernest's preferred recipe—it was a bit strange.

Ernest Hemingway, born in the last year of the 19th century, seemed to embody the kind of gruff masculinity that John Wayne would’ve looked up to. In pictures, he looks like he wore sweaters made of brillo pads. He participated in three wars. He had strong opinions about all kinds of things—guns, fine art, boxing, European cities—and was always up at dawn, claiming to have seen every sunrise since he’d been born. He was never happier than when hunting or fishing, really anything murderous. He survived two plane crashes in two consecutive days and after the second was believed dead, until he emerged from the jungle holding a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin, Time magazine would report later, “battered but unbowed.”

He was also, as noted, a famous and exuberant drunk, the kind of guy who orders a cocktail at the airport he arrives at, who drinks Champagne with breakfast and goes on epic, several day benders, and whose habits inspired an entire book just about his relationship to alcohol. Everything was outsized, everything turned fantastic: Hemingway was the kind of guy who could tell a story about how when he was in Montana he lived with a bear, got drunk with him, slept side by side and were indeed close friends, and you suspect he’s probably telling the truth.

His fame, combined with his nomadic nature and his gargantuan appetite for drink, has led to cottage industries in a half dozen cities, Hemingway Drinking Tours, with some bar or another claiming to be the author’s favorite haunt in Venice or Paris or Key West or, in the case of the Hemingway Daiquiri, Havana, to which the author decamped in 1939. Hemingway came to Cuba to leave his second wife and write what would ultimately become For Whom the Bell Tolls, and for his first few months, he set up at a hotel just up the street from a little bar called La Florida (affectionately referred to as “La Floridita”), which was already famous for making the best Daiquiris in Cuba.

In 1934, the bar had published Bar La Florida Cocktail Book, featuring four different house versions of the Daiquiri. In an updated printing in 1939, they’d add a Daiquiri No. 5, as well as an entry a few pages later, the “E. Henmiway Special,” which was identical to their Daiquiri No. 3 except it had no sugar syrup and was blended, as opposed to shaken and strained.

The story goes like this: like all diabetics (to say nothing of all savage alcoholics), Hemingway didn’t like sugar in his booze. He gravitated to the Daiquiri No. 3—rum, lime, grapefruit, a teaspoon of Maraschino liqueur and simple syrup—but ordered it his way: Double the rum, throw out the sugar, add just six drops of liqueur, and serve it as cold as possible, on finely shaved ice. This stunningly strong, undrinkably tart beverage pleased him, and he reportedly once took down 17 in a single sitting (a classic Hemingway story, in that it seems crazy but for the fact that we’re talking about Ernest Hemingway).

This is the origin story of what we now know as the Hemingway Daiquiri. The flavors here are fantastic—the bitter zesty texture of grapefruit is a natural friend to Maraschino’s earthy funk, and rum and lime juice are so perfectly aligned that they buy each other the same Christmas presents—but the ratios are another story.

Hemingway’s version is, simply put, unacceptable. This gives us an interesting type of classic cocktail: For most classics, we tend to give an outsized deference to authenticity, whereas with the Hemingway Daiquiri, no one even considers making it his way. Therefore, bartenders are left to seek their own preferred balance, which tend to fall into three similar but different recipes:

The Dry Version a.k.a. As Close to Classic as Possible

havana club rum

Photo: Jeremy Repanich

Combine ingredients either on finely shaved ice and shake, or otherwise to a blender and blend on high for 10 seconds. Serve up in a stemmed glass, and garnish with a scowl, or perhaps a war story.

I straight-up refuse to double the rum. This is already too dry, and adding another 2 oz. of rum will make it worse, and claims to authenticity do not extend far enough to serve something like that to anyone… but this is as close to the way Hemingway himself would’ve liked it as I’m willing to go. If you’ve the type of person who thinks every cocktail is too sweet, or otherwise just wants to slip onto the author’s barstool for a moment, this is a great way to do it.

As far as rum is concerned, if you can get your hands on Havana Club, that would be ideal. As you likely can’t, traditional would be Cuban or Cuban-style rum, so you could use something like Cana Brava, produced by a Cuban rum distiller, or Bacardi, which was Cuban until they fled the island in 1960, or honestly any white rum from a Spanish speaking country.

Playing It Safe a.k.a. A Classic Daiquiri With an Accent Mark

Plantation Rum

Photo: courtesy Plantation Rum

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake well for 10 seconds, and strain into a stemmed glass. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.

This is the version you’ll get in most cocktail bars, and it is indeed delicious. This template is essentially a classic Daiquiri (rum, lime, sugar) that’s sending flirtatious glances at the bottle of Maraschino—Maraschino liqueur is a strong flavor, and this recipe adds just a touch, just to give it a little topspin. If you’ve never had the liqueur before, this is probably where I’d start you out.

Embrace the Difference a.k.a. Leaning Into the Maraschino

luxardo maraschino liqueur

Photo: courtesy Luxardo

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake well for 10 seconds, and strain into a stemmed glass. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

My favorite version. Yes, it’s a lot of Maraschino liqueur, but personally, I feel like this is the version that stakes the boldest claim, and that when I start craving a Hemingway Daiquiri, this is what most thoroughly scratches that itch. The lime juice is in a small range, above, because of the inherent variation present in grapefruits—the sweeter the grapefruit, the more lime you’ll need. Start with a half-ounce of lime. You can always add more.

Every week bartender Jason O’Bryan mixes his up his favorite drinks for you. Check out his past cocktail recipes.

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